A glimpse behind the scenes of a missing person investigation

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Investigators in Sullivan County have been working for days to track down missing 15-month-old Evelyn Boswell.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigations said their teams received more than 500 tips from the public regarding Evelyn Boswell.

Phyllis Tonkin, a detective with Knoxville Police Department’s Special Crimes Unit, isn’t part of the search efforts, but said she handles missing person cases on a daily basis.

She said a huge help with the efforts of finding a missing person is being able to start the search as soon as possible.

“This biggest myth is you have to wait 24 hours in order to report a person missing and that is not true. If you have an individual missing and you know they are missing, I would call immediately,” Tonkin said.

She said that families typically start their own search within the first two hours, but they shouldn’t do that.

Tonkin said that the sooner a missing person report is filed, the sooner they can have more eyes searching for that person.

She if the missing person is a young child, they can wander far quickly; and if it’s a senior citizen with dementia, they can quickly lose track of their surroundings.

Tonkin said that once they receive a missing persons report, they try to get as much information from the family or those closest to that person as possible.

Investigators want to know what that person was last seen wearing, who they were last seen with, friends that they might typically hang out with, etc.

Tonkin said that having the most recent photos or videos of the missing person is important as well.

After detective collect all that information, Tonkin said they posts bulletins with those details.

“That bulletin would go out to out officers and surrounding county officers in order to try and get that individuals picture out there, so there’s more people looking for the individual that’s missing,” Tonkin said.

Tonkin said they will get that information out to the public as soon as possible as well, hoping for tips to come in.

She said that in some cases, hundreds of tips might come in, but other cases might only have a few.

Tonkin said though that could be because of what information they relay to the public.

“If you say that it’s a gray car, that it’s a Pontiac, you’re going to start getting a lot of calls because every Pontiac that passes an individual, then we’re going to get a tip on it,” Tonkin said.

She said every tip is important and every tip is looked into, whether that’s with officers searching on the ground or making phone calls.

Tonkin said they want all those calls when someone sees a similar car drive by, because you never know when a tip will help move the case forward.

“Any tip when you have a missing person is important, because what one person sees as not important, you think it’s not important, but that might be the link that we’re trying to put the last piece of that puzzle together in order to locate the person,” Tonkin said.

If anyone has any information regarding Evelyn Boswell, call 1-800-TBI-FIND.

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